Faith Like French Fries

French FriesAt the end of a challenging day, my mind can sometimes play strange tricks on me while I’m preparing dinner.  The other night while I was cooking steaks, I was suddenly visited by Marlin Perkins, the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, a show I used to watch during the 70s.  Sprawled out on our orange-plaid shag rug, a tribute to the only decade that could proudly spit in the face of good taste, my siblings and I would wait with breathless anticipation for the weekly episode.  Actually, we probably didn’t really have anything better to do, but I like to romanticize my memories.

Marlin Perkins was always a bit stiff in his presentation, the way a small child is a “bit stiff” when he suddenly develops rigor mortis while throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a parking lot.  Perkins’s stiffness was the perfect contrast to the excitement of the wild animals displayed on the show.  There was nothing quite like watching a pack of cheetahs hunting down their prey on the Serengeti and hearing it narrated off cue cards with the dispassionate voice of a golf commentator.

This same voice emerged through the steam as I prepared dinner and sensed the arrival of my pack of three young cubs.

A pack of big cats smells its prey downwind and creeps stealthily through the Serengeti.  Keeping them fed can be extremely dangerous, and they need an awful lot of food. Circling their victim, the predators lick their chops, waiting for the kill.  In split-second timing, they pounce.  No longer concerned with stealth, they open their mouths and shriek…

“WHEN is dinner going to be ready?”

“Fifteen minutes,” I answer.

“WHAAAAAT?  Fifteen minutes?  Aaaaagh!!!!!!!”  And the cats scattered back to the hills.

I shouted after them to “be patient,”  and then I remembered Voting Day.

This year I dragged my kids along with me to vote.  I thought it would be a good idea for them to experience the thrill of fulfilling one’s patriotic duty.  I thought it would fill them with a sense of good citizenship.  I thought I was an intelligent person, up until that moment.

Standing in line for two hours is hard enough without children.  But if you have them with you, and the end of the line is not something worthwhile like a ride at Disneyland, be warned.

The voting station was set up like a cruel mirage, making you think that if you only could just get to the next corner, the wait would be over.  We shuffled along like old men in slippers, but the line snaked on and on with no end in sight.  It didn’t help that the people who had finally voted had to pass by us on the way out, and they all looked like they had spent a month in a concentration camp.  How could I blame my kids for whining and complaining, when I couldn’t even feel my own legs anymore?  I guess adults are not much different from children when it comes to impatience.

Fifteen minutes seemed like an eternity for my kids to wait for a meal, and at first I was annoyed by their impatience. Ironically, I was impatient with their impatience. But while the rest of dinner was simmering, I took them on my lap and snuggled.  When you are waiting for something, you should make the most of the opportunity.

No one likes to hear that “patience is a virtue,” especially not kids waiting for their dinner.  Or adults waiting for their prayers to be answered.

Psalm 40:1

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.

Sometimes a prayer can take months or years to be answered.  This kind of patience is a hard pill to swallow in our fast-food society.  We expect prayers to be answered quickly, if not immediately.  Sometimes we treat God as though He is a vending machine.  We offer up a prayer and expect a bag of blessings to come falling out of a chute.  When the dollar bill keeps being rejected, we angrily shove it back in and demand our food immediately, sometimes kicking and screaming.  And God help us if we request Oreos but end up with pretzels instead.

God is not into fast-food prayers.

The older I get, the more time and effort that I put into my meals.  A good soup takes a long time.  Traditional soup is simmered for an entire day, but the hot, delicious soup is worth the wait. Canned soup can be opened in a second, but it contains miniscule chunks of mystery meat, which taste something like the can, but not quite as good.

When it comes to receiving an answer from God, we need to let the soup simmer.  Does God have the ability to answer a prayer as quickly as you can open a can of soup?  Of course.  But if we could receive everything  as soon as we asked for it, where would our believing be?  How would we ever develop our patience, strength, and faith?  And sometimes there is a battle going on behind the scenes that we can neither see nor understand.  When we are waiting for an answer, we need to keep praying and trusting that God is working on our behalf.

Romans 12:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…

God is not a drive-thru window.   Racing through life with faith like French fries will only result in heartburn.  And while we’re waiting for the delicious end result, we may as well curl up on His lap and snuggle for a while.

The Death of a Sponge

Cleaning under the kitchen sink is a dangerous job that should be left to professional bomb detonators.   Just the other day, I found a putrefied sponge that appeared to have been last used during the Carter administration.  It had shriveled into a miniature profile of Alfred Hitchcock, surely an ominous sign that this sponge was something out of the Twilight Zone.  I had heard that sponges can serve as a medium for harmful bacteria or fungi, especially when the sponge is allowed to remain wet.  Bad news for sponges, since they live in the ocean.

The sponge is one of the strangest animals in the sea.  Most sponges permanently attach themselves to the ocean floor, making them closely related to the human couch potato. They sit all day with their only friends, the corals, watching all of the other animals swimming and having fun.  Do the other animals mock them? Do they swim somersaults around the sponges while waving cans of Ajax in front of their faces?  Except sponges don’t even have faces.  They must remain expressionless, trying to even slightly expand their pores.  It must be a relief when a diver finally harvests them and ships them off to a Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

As I examined the remains of this sponge, I knew there was a lesson in there somewhere, deep within the shriveled pores of this creepy cleaning device.  Why did God create the sponge? I stared at it until I came up with a couple of thoughts.

A.  It is completely pointless to clean the house until all the children have left for college.

B.  How many are your works, O LORD!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:24)

C.  The success of SpongeBob SquarePants is further proof that Jesus is returning soon.   Please, Father.  It’s time; let’s end this now.

Somehow, while we were all apparently asleep at the wheel, SpongeBob SquarePants became the hero of the sponge world.  One day someone had too much time on his hands and decided to invent a new cartoon character.  He was probably excited about his creation until network executives canned his idea for SqueegeeBarb RhombusDress.  Instead they put a pair of shorts on a sponge, called him Bob, and made a billion dollars.  That’s it, I thought.  Tomorrow I’m putting a dress on my toilet brush and calling him Ralph.  Then we’ll see what happens.

I know I’m supposed to like SpongeBob, that lovable harbinger of mold and other household germs.   But to me, the eerie life of SpongeBob is a helpful reminder for all of us to soak our kitchen utensils in vinegar before we go to bed.  I decided to chuck the sponge before it burst into song and dance.

At that moment, my children came running down the stairs.  It was hard not to notice; when all three of them run together it sounds like a herd of elephants.  Or a stampede of women during a Christmas Tree Shop sale.

I remembered the old saying, “Children are like sponges.”  I have often thought of this in terms of their education.  A child’s brain can absorb massive amounts of information, but if it is not used, it will wither.

But this day I was thinking about love.

The previous day had not been “fun” parenting.  The kids had been acting up, and I had been much more firm and strict with them than usual.  As I held the withered sponge over the trash can, I understood that children are also like sponges when it comes to love.  They have so much capacity to absorb, but unloved children will shrivel up like a rotting sponge left under the kitchen sink.

I made a command decision to completely change my plans for the day, which is a miracle considering my granitic schedule.  Somewhere at a zoo, someone must have yelled,  “Hey, that leopard just changed his spots!”

I gathered the kids and made my announcement.

“We’re not doing math today.”

The children were so devastated that they broke down in tears.  Then I realized it was tears of joy, accompanied by a 20-float parade and mariachi band.

Instead of their usual math session, each child had to snuggle with me under the afghan as I held them and sang to them.  I told them stories of what they were like as babies.  I told them how much I loved them, and how excited I was for God’s plan for them.  For 45 minutes straight, I edified, encouraged, and poured out blessings. Basically, I filled up their sponge-hearts with as much love as they could hold.

Tomorrow, it’s back to regular math.  But I decided to do this more often (although it may get a little awkward when they’re in college).  After all, Jesus didn’t just talk about love.  His down-and-dirty feet washing session with his disciples had a purpose.

John 13:1c   Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

Jesus poured out his love in every way imaginable, even in death on the cross.  Every drop of blood that dripped was saturated with a savior’s love that never runs dry.  Once we accept that deluge of love, we can then wring some out on others.  How much we choose to give depends on our understanding of how much has been given.

Cleaning under the kitchen sink was a frightening experience from which I will not soon recover.  But I will always be grateful for the lesson I learned from the death of a sponge.

A Case of Geek Squad Irony

I sat hopelessly at the deathbed of my computer, as it sputtered and gasped its final, profound words:  INTERNET EXPLORER HAS STOPPED WORKING.  Windows tried to cushion the blow by telling me that they were supposedly “checking for a solution to the problem,” but I was skeptical.  Too many times in the past, I had fallen for that glimmer of hope that just maybe the computer was actually going to fix itself.  Now I knew it was only a euphemism for “We’re just flashing this message right now to stall for time. No one is actually working on your problem. We are not even going to think about you while we gorge ourselves on buffalo wings down at Curly’s Bar & Grill.  Good Luck.”  Or something like that.

I watched the tiny ellipsis flash across the screen and waited.  When my computer screen froze, I knew it was too late – rigor mortis had already begun.  I tried to throw it life support by desperately pushing buttons.  The only sign of life in the room was the faint buzzing of a fly, an eerie reminder of a poem by Emily Dickenson.

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air

Between the Heaves of Storm

I thought I remembered the last two lines of the poem, but I had to look it up to believe it.  The irony leapt off the page and bit me like a rabid raccoon. It seemed the poem was actually written by Microsoft:

And then the Windows failed, and then –

I could not see to see.

It was a peaceful death as the screen faded to black. Then I did what any high-tech person would do.  I shut off my computer and went to bed.

In the morning, I hit the power button and pretended that the whole ordeal never happened.  Clearly I had entered the “denial” stage of loss.  When I was greeted by the Screen of Death, I grabbed my laptop and the kids and headed off to visit the Geek Squad.

I was a little disappointed when the two young men behind the counter were actually trying too hard to resemble computer geeks.  When I walk into McDonald’s, I don’t want to see men dressed in kilts.  I don’t even expect to see radios at Radio Shack. Yet these men seemed to flaunt their geek pride, as though their pocket protectors were badges of honor.

One man (whom I’ll call Elmer since his skin was whiter than kindergarten paste) gave me the Inquisition:

“When was the last time you backed up your files?”

“I’m not sure, let’s see…Armstrong had just landed on the moon, and…”

Why hadn’t I backed up my files for so long?  I guess I just never believed this sort of thing would happen to me.  If I had known my computer was going to die, of course I would have saved all of my files the night before.

We’re never truly prepared for these moments.  It’s why Jesus had to warn us to “be ready.”

Matthew 24:42-44

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

If everyone knew the exact moment of Jesus’ return, the day before would be predictable.  People would be scrambling to tidy up their lives, making sure everything was perfectly in order for The Master.  Instead, many people will be caught off guard.  Oh!  Jesus, if I had only known when you were coming, I would have changed…

By the grace of God, even though my hard drive had died, my files were able to be saved.  My laptop would be away for a few days undergoing repairs.  Elmer just needed to enter my information in his computer, but it wasn’t working.  His manager came to inform him that their computer system was down, and everything would have to be done on paper.

“The Geek Squad computers are not working?  And no one can fix it?” I asked incredulously.

Elmer was pensive.  “Yes, um…I see the irony here.”

As I left the building, I could barely see through the massive cloud of irony that hung over the place.  I was not exactly brimming with confidence that they were going to be able to fix my computer.

In all, I survived ten days without a working computer.  I could not check news, weather, e-mails, or messages.  I felt disconnected, but my kids could not understand why it was upsetting to be unplugged from the world.  All they knew was that Mommy was suddenly more available, and there was no competition from a machine for attention.  Instead of a laptop, I had my children on my lap.  I was out of touch with the world and more in touch with God and my family.

When I got the call to come pick up my restored computer, we all felt disappointed.  The fog of irony has been thick around here lately, but at least now I can see through it enough to focus on protecting the more important things in my life.

The Bull Fight and the Illiterate Sea Turtle

All I wanted was to get to the beach.  A string of unfortunate events had put us an hour behind schedule, and now I faced a stack of interlocked carriages at the grocery store.  Crammed tightly together, the red carts looked like a line of menacing, hunchbacked bulls awaiting their next victim.  As I tugged at the first carriage, I had the sinking feeling I was about to participate in my first Running of the Bulls.

The carriages were jammed, but the craziness of the morning had filled me with the confidence of a matador.  Granted, I didn’t have a red cape or a sword, but I glanced around for the only weapon I needed:  a sanitary wipe.  None in sight.  Barehanded, I attacked the tangled bulls and tried not to notice that a line had formed behind me, and the arena was now surrounded by a crowd of surly shoppers.  Not to mention the security camera which could land me on YouTube.

I didn’t want to give up my fight, but time was ticking, so I humbly accepted a stray cart being offered by an elderly store assistant. Slinking into the store, I walked about five hundred feet and noticed a station of sanitary wipes.  Great. Now that my flesh has completely melded with the handle, they offer me a wipe.

As to be expected, my cart had a wobbly wheel.  This was no day to end up with the Flintstone carriage, but I was not about to engage in another fight with the bulls.  My kids were becoming impatient, and I just wanted to get in and out quickly.  Except now I couldn’t find the almonds, and I walked through the maze of the store like Theseus searching for the Minotaur.

I couldn’t find any staff member to help me, because there are two types of shopping experiences.  The first is when you are just trying to browse, but an officious sales clerk leeches to your back.  And sometimes, like this particular morning, the aisles are filled with nothing but tumbleweeds and the eerie cricket-chirping of a ghost town.

When I finally made it to the checkout, I noticed that my cashier was wearing a cross with Jesus on it.  “I like your necklace,” I said.  “I’m a Christian, too.”

She self-consciously clutched her necklace and replied,  “Whenever I have stress, I grab it and know that everything is going to be okay.”

I suddenly realized that I was not having such a bad day after all.  It was a fighting-with-bulls-kind of day, but hardly a dying-on-the-cross kind of day.

Jesus never promised that our days would be perfect, but he did promise his peace.

John 15:27

My peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

When we finally arrived at the beach, the warm breeze tingled my nose with salt air, and my troubles drowned in the depths of the sapphire sea.  As we moved toward the water, the kids spotted a sea turtle on the shore.  We ran to get a closer look, but I soon sensed that something was terribly wrong.  Maybe it was the flies swarming around the turtle’s glassy eyes.  Or maybe it was the turtle’s entrails strewn two feet from its body.  I’m no crime scene investigator, but I recognize a butcher job when I see one.

“She’s dead,” Luke, my six-year-old, profoundly announced.

Our semi-circle formed a makeshift funeral around this mommy turtle who had given her life for her eggs.  We had just studied a unit on sea turtles, and we had read about the untimely death of many of these sea creatures.  The book had tried to console children by mentioning the passing of laws to protect these turtles, but Luke had asked the Question of the Year:

“But Mommy, if the sea turtles and other animals can’t read, how can they follow the laws?”

Only a child could think of such an insightful question, for it makes no sense for humans to post laws and assume that the laws of God’s animal kingdom would magically change.

Another group of kids spotted the dead turtle, but they were not as quick to grasp reality.  Two older children started running and screaming, “Water!  Get water!  Call the rescue!  Somebody help!”  They only stopped acting like a circus clown act when their much younger brother examined the turtle, licked his ice cream, and announced, “Guys!  I think you’re too late.”

My children seemed so full of life as I watched them frolic in the sand and sea.  Their vitality was only highlighted by the lifeless turtle beside us.  That hapless creature was a great reminder of the fragility of life.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I dug my toes into the warm sand and breathed deeply. This had only been a late-for-the-beach kind of day, not a dead-on-the-beach-with-entrails-removed kind of day.

All I had wanted was to get to the beach.  Thanks to a reminder from an illiterate sea turtle, my day was redeemed.

Rubber Gloves For Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day at 5:00 a.m., I was jolted awake by a bang on my bedroom door.  Everyone knows that Mother’s Day is a day to let a mother “sleep in” and feel pampered.  So I ignored the bang and sank down further under the covers.

BANG!  BANG! BANG!  “Mommy!” a tiny voice screamed at the door.

No, this couldn’t  be happening.  Didn’t my kids get the memo?

“Mommy, I need your help.  My bed is all wet,” cried Nate, my four-year-old.

As he opened the door, a familiar, unpleasant smell barged rudely into my room.  It was last night’s dinner in reverse.

“Did you throw up?” I asked incredulously.  Clearly my child was not getting this whole “pampering” thing.

“Yes,” he whimpered.

I brought him into his room to assess the extent of the damage.  Still half-asleep, I couldn’t bring myself to turn on his light.  Somewhere around his bed, the terrain became “unstable,” and my feet quickly reminded me that you should never step into potential mine fields in the dark.  My eyes finally adjusted to the glow of the nightlight, and in a blue-tinged haze, I saw the gruesome carnage of his stomach’s battle with last night’s dinner.  The damage was extensive, an ominous start to my special day.

Flash back to yesterday’s devotional reading.  I had been lounging in my overstuffed chair, sipping hot tea and reading about facing problems with the right attitude.   In retrospect, it’s a lot easier to face problems by reading about them in a comfortable chair while drinking tea.  The actual battlefield is a whole different story.

My devotional had recommended thanking God for problems.  But I must confess that I did not face the vomit-fest with a hearty, “Wow, THANK YOU, Father!  I am so very THANKFUL that this happened so you can teach me to rely on your strength in my moments of weakness.”

I think I uttered the slightly altered version, “WHY ME?!!!”

I had plenty of time to analyze my response while cleaning.   Donning my worn pair of rubber gloves, I was outside spraying down Nate’s things with a hose and scrubbing them with a hard brush.

“Happy Mother’s Day to me,” I sang.  My boys watched from the open window and gave constructive criticism on my cleaning job.

“You missed a spot in the corner,” offered Luke.

Nate was thrilled to discover what he thought was my biggest problem.  “I know what you need for Mother’s Day!  New rubber gloves!”

Later on the boys added to the festivities of the holiday by fighting with each other.  That’s when I realized that I had unrealistic expectations about this holiday. Contrary to what Hallmark would have us believe, Mother’s Day is not a day when our children magically transform into angelic beings for twenty-four hours.  It is not a day for children to bow down and worship at Mommy’s footstool.  Any holiday that focuses on selfishness is going to fail.  Mother’s Day should be a holiday for mothers to reflect on how thankful they are for their children.

I thought about Hannah from the Bible.  Her soul yearned for a child, and she poured her heart out to God for deliverance.

1 Samuel 1:10-11

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.

And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty.  If you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life…”

God gave Hannah baby Samuel.  She kept her word, and after Samuel was weaned she brought him to be raised by Eli the priest in the house of the LORD.  She was so thankful for her son that she was willing to part with him and give him back to God.

Here is a mother who was not waiting for breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day.  In fact, her Mother’s Day came once a year when she expected nothing, but rather gave a gift to her son:

1 Samuel 2:19

Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him…. 

God then blessed Hannah and gave her three more sons and two daughters.  I’m sure she had days where her kids got sick and even fought with each other.  But she was a thankful woman indeed.

The more things that went “wrong” on my Mother’s Day, the more I laughed and thanked God for my three children.  They are certainly not perfect angels, but they are my gifts from God. If kids were supposed to be perfect, they would be born with halos.  Instead, they come out of the womb crying – a much more realistic picture of the days to come.

I never want to forget that like Hannah, I  also had once prayed for children, and these imperfect-yet-wonderful kids were the answers to my prayers.

That’s all I really need for Mother’s Day.  And maybe a new pair of rubber gloves.

A Face Like New Jersey

At the crack of dawn, I shuffled into the hotel bathroom and fumbled for the light switch. My eyes were half-closed sandbags from the weight of a long trip. But when I peered into the mirror, I was startled awake by the hideous face staring back at me.  Clearly I was staying in a hotel where the ultra-fluorescent, über-obnoxious bathroom lighting was designed by a man.

If a woman had her choice, every mirror in the world would be surrounded by the flattering frame of lambent candlelight.  Typical lighting, the fluorescent fiend, highlights every flaw in our skin from wrinkles to things we can’t wait to question God about someday, such as nose hair.  But we have no need or desire to see the subcutaneous layer of our skin.  We tend to shriek when our pores appear larger than craters.  No one wants to stick a Q-Tip where it may have to be retrieved by a Moon Rover.

As I searched the hotel bathroom for a dimmer, I remembered the vain queen from Snow White.  Every day she asked her magical mirror, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in the land is fairest of all?”  to which the mirror always replied: “You, my queen, are fairest of all.” But one day when the queen asked her mirror, it responded: “Snow White is the fairest of them all.”  This is what happens when you allow the king to install new lighting.

While I was trying to recover from my scary reflection, my daughter Grace entered the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and stated, “Mommy, your face is so beautiful.”  I felt better until later when we were travelling through an ugly construction scene on I-95 and Grace piped up from the back seat, “Mommy, New Jersey is so beautiful.”   I quickly analyzed the syllogism:

A.  My face is beautiful.

B.  New Jersey is beautiful.

C.  Therefore, my face looks like New Jersey.

My mind flashed back to high school English class, when our teacher asked us to explain the meaning behind the last line of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

At that age, we couldn’t understand why this man was so moved by pottery. He might as well have written “Ode on a Greasy Tupperware.”  We struggled to summarize the meaning behind this cryptic phrase, each of us providing lengthy, philosophical essays.  Even today, scholars still dig so far with the mega-drill of their words that they may reach the earth’s mantle.

If I could find my English teacher now, I would skim the answer right from the surface in two sentences:

When something is made by God, you simply cannot deny its beauty.  And nothing is more beautiful than His Truth.

James 1:23-25

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror

and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

Even though we know exactly what we look like, we still have to check ourselves in the mirror several times a day.  It would be difficult  to tolerate bathrooms without mirrors, but people did it for centuries, and some cultures still do it today.

God is not concerned with whatever we are checking out in the mirror.  He doesn’t worry about smudged eyeliner or spinach stuck in the teeth.  In the mirror of His Word, nothing can show us more quickly how ugly or attractive we are.

1 Samuel 16:7

…The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

There have been times when I have read a verse and shrieked from the fluorescent light revealing the flaws in my heart.  But when I change my heart, no matter what I look like physically, I know that God thinks I’m beautiful.  Even with a face like New Jersey.

The Days of Whine and Noses

Certain things are just meant to be together.  Peanut butter and jelly. Kermit and Miss Piggy. Back seats and whining.  I am convinced that car manufacturers actually install a device in the back seats to induce whining and route it through the surround sound system.  For activation, all it takes is the pressure of about thirty pounds.  Amazingly, the vehicle doesn’t even have to be moving to trigger this phenomenon.  If only the imaginary brake in the passenger seat could work as well.

Nothing raises my hackles as quickly as a good whine.  In fact, I didn’t even know I had hackles until I had children.  I thought they were reserved for dogs and chickens, but now I know better.  God designed hackles on the back of a parent’s neck so that we could know when we have reached our limit and need to come to Him for help before we implode.

God first realized the need for hackles when the children of Israel were wandering through the wilderness.  At first, the trip probably seemed like an exciting adventure.  But then they backed out of the driveway and for forty years the vast, barren wasteland echoed with the ancient equivalent of “Are we there yet?” and “Stop touching me!”

When the Israelites complained about the food and begged for some sort of fast food treat, God provided His children with a snack called manna, also known as “the grain of heaven” and “the bread of angels.”  But were they thankful? N-o-o-o-o-o.  They complained like a bunch of disappointed children on Christmas morning.

“What’s this?  A wafer?  Pfffff!  Where’s the beef?”

Suddenly the car came to a grinding halt and God threatened to “come back there.”

Numbers 11:18-20

 18 …’The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it.

19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days,

 20 but for a whole month– until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it– because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” ‘”

The threat of quail coming out of their nostrils probably brought some radio silence for a few moments.

God truly understands what a parent is going through when a child is whining and complaining.  I witnessed this truth when my kids were recently sick with a cold.  With this illness, my normally happy children gave birth to some sort of internal beast that made Oscar the Grouch seem downright jovial.

Maybe they didn’t have quail coming out of their nostrils, but their noses morphed into faucets of gunk that even the formidable team of Hans Brinker and the Kleenex company couldn’t plug.  The level of whining reached epic proportions and raised my hackles as though hundreds of miniature soldiers were standing at attention on the back of my neck.

At one point I buried my head under my pillow and tried to squelch the toxic combination of constant nose-wiping and whining.  Acting like an ostrich didn’t help, so I tried begging instead.

“God, please.  I can’t deal with this.  I’m going crazy.  Why do they have to be sick like this?  I’m so tired of wiping noses. This whining is unbearable…”

Like the sudden scrape of a needle across a vinyl record, my speech was interrupted when I got smacked in the middle of the forehead by the hand of irony.

Yes, I was whining.  I must have sounded to God exactly how my children sounded to me. The angels were buying their heads under pillows. Worse, I was probably even raising their hackles.

I put up with this for forty years, remember? 

I certainly did not want to be responsible for causing God’s head to implode.  As I bowed my head, I suddenly remembered my wedding vows.

in sickness and in health, for better or for worse

I had pledged these words to my husband, but what about my children?  When everything was going smoothly, it was so easy to focus on my overwhelming love for them.  But add a little tribulation, and I was transported back to the whining wilderness with the children of Israel.

Opening yet another box of Kleenex, I took a deep breath, gathered my little ones, and resumed my position as Royal Nose-Wiper and Whine-Taster.  As I held them close to me, a painful lump formed in my throat, but I knew it wasn’t the beginning of illness.  It was simply the realization that these kids are growing so quickly, and someday I will long for the Days of Whine and Noses.

A Conversation With Celery

No matter how you try to dress up a piece of celery, it’s just plain boring.  You could fill it with caviar and garnish it with gold, but anybody with an I.Q. greater than an amoeba  could see through the disguise.  When you pick up a limp piece of celery, it flops over like an arthritic old man on a rainy Monday morning. Celery is depressing; it’s the Eeyore of vegetables.

The other day I was speaking with someone who reminded me of celery.  I was fighting to pay attention, but all I could imagine was a limp piece of celery with hair and a face.  When it was my turn to respond, I was suddenly in an episode of Veggie Tales, and I had to refrain myself from bursting into a rousing rendition of  “The Dance of the Cucumber.”  On the drive home, it dawned on me that one of my primary duties as a parent is to ensure that my children develop personalities greater than a stalk of celery.

Of all the interesting personalities in the Bible, David is my favorite.  Maybe that’s because he was a “man after God’s own heart,” which would certainly add flavor to anyone’s personality.  David was the life of the party, a man who could play the harp, fight off giants, and run a kingdom in his spare time.

When Samuel had to select the next king over Israel, he invited Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice to choose the Lord’s anointed one.  One by one, Jesse’s sons walked the runway, but Samuel couldn’t find the right guy.  I love the fact that David wasn’t there.  He was off tending the sheep, so Samuel had to send for him.  Casual and unassuming, ruddy and handsome, David showed up late to the party and made his appearance all the more dramatic.  A green pepper in the midst of celery.

DAVID: (humming) La la la la la…huh? Hey, everybody!  What are you doing here?  (Samuel pours oil over his head) Whoa!

SAMUEL:  I anoint you in the name of the Lord.  The power of the Lord is now upon you.

DAVID:  Cool!  Let’s go kill some giants!

David had the X factor, and he even played the harp.  That’s kind of like that moment on American Idol when you love someone’s voice, and then one week they suddenly whip out a guitar and show a whole new talent.  Saul had an evil spirit tormenting him, and his attendants knew that music would heal his soul.  I can only imagine the initial suggestions.

ATTENDANT 1:  I’m learning how to play the pan flute.

ATTENDANT 2:  My four-year-old can play the glockenspiel.

SAUL:  You’re both fired.  Anyone else have a less idiotic suggestion?

1 Samuel 16:18

One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp.  He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man.  And the LORD is with him.” 

From this one suggestion, we learn many great qualities of David.  He was so likeable that Saul chose him to be one of his armor-bearers.  When Goliath, the Philistine giant, was terrorizing the Israelites, David was the only one willing to fight him.  Goliath had a little too much personality; he was more like a jalapeño pepper.  Sure, anyone could have killed Goliath with a 12-gauge shotgun.  David did it with a stone and a sling.  One shot to the forehead. Goodbye.  Apparently just killing Goliath was too ordinary, so David sliced off his head and carried it around with him for a while.  Maybe used it in a ventriloquist act.

My favorite “David moment” is when he returned with the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 6:14

David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might.

David made this move popular way before Tom Cruise danced in his underwear.  But his wife Michal was disgusted by his public display of unbridled joy.  David’s response shows the origin of his zeal.

2 Samuel 6:21

It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel –

I will celebrate before the LORD.

David had such a fervor for God that it bubbled up and boiled over into an ebullient display of elation.  His love was not hindered by ritualistic worship or a phony display of passion for the Lord.  He did not have to try too hard to be funny or interesting; his personality evolved from genuine love and enthusiasm.

The other night my kids were getting ready for bed when a song on the radio made them start to dance.

“Hey, this song is about JESUS!” my four-year-old announced.

Throwing hands up in the air and dancing around the room in their underwear,  they had no idea how silly they looked, nor did they care.  It had been a rough day, the kind where I second-guessed my abilities as a parent.  But as I watched their spontaneous, uninhibited dance of joy, I thought of David’s celebration and smiled.

Somewhere in between celery and a jalapeño is all I ask.

Insurance for Job

After dealing with various insurance agents all week, I have now come to the conclusion that we should just sell all of our belongings and go live in a tent on a deserted island.  Apparently there are 20,000 to 30,000 islands in the South Pacific, and that’s only because some poor guy got tired of counting.  We could just pick an uninhabited island and show up, although we might land on shore only to be greeted by the Aflac duck, seeking to insure us from the hazards of falling coconuts.

Insurance agents are always concerned about risks, but they never seem to be too worried about the fact that I have three young kids, including two boys who make a team more formidable than a cyclone.  I risk my life every time I turn a corner in our house and delve into an unknown landmine field of toys.

Just last night I was cooking dinner at the stove, when I stepped back onto my four-year-old’s train set.  Even while I feared for my life, I was briefly impressed that PlaySkool trains have even better velocity than Amtrak.  Then again, Amtrak trains don’t rappel you towards the top of a flight of stairs while holding a scalding pot of meatball soup.

Insurance agents are far too worried about an ACT OF GOD, when they should be  more concerned with an ACT OF CHILD.  They are more anxious about the improbability of a random asteroid hitting my house than they are with the very real probability that I could break my leg on a Matchbox car at any moment.

People who lived during biblical times did not have to worry about insurance.  No premiums, no deductibles, no claims.  We know this because there’s no way they would have let Mary, a nine-month pregnant woman, ride on a donkey.

I can just hear the insurance agent harassing Noah for attempting to build the ark.

AGENT:  Let me get this straight; it’s going to rain for forty days and nights, and you have no flood insurance?  You’re in a flood zone, for crying out loud.

NOAH:  Actually, the whole earth is a flood zone right now.

AGENT:  You realize you won’t be able to file a claim when this is all over.

NOAH:  When this is over, you won’t be able to file a claim either.

AGENT:  What’s that supposed to mean?

NOAH:  Oh, nothing.  Was that a raindrop?  Gotta go!

And how about David, about to attack Goliath without any personal liability insurance?

AGENT:  You’re going to attack HIM?  You could get sued!  A crazy guy like that could totally lose his head.

DAVID:  Hey, now there’s an idea…

Then there are some people, like Job, who just seem uninsurable.

Job was a righteous man who once had it all.  He had a huge number of servants and livestock.  His house could have been destroyed by the thousands of sheep and oxen, but he also had ten children, including seven boys.  Not even State Farm would have been there for Job.  Especially not after Satan started inflicting one disaster after another, causing Job to lose his family, his house, and his health.

During this time, Job’s three “friends” came to commiserate and offer their sage advice.  Unfortunately, their advice was about as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane.

Bummer, Job.  Guess you should have bought that insurance after all, hahaha.

The only one who was really there for Job through it all was God.

Job 42:10,12

the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had  before…The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.

Excuse me?  Who would take a chance on someone who has already lost everything?

That’s exactly what God did when He decided to sacrifice His son for us.  He gave us free will, knowing the risks involved with our human nature.  Being omniscient, God saw the potential for disaster and wisely set up the very first insurance policy of his own.  Even if everything possible went wrong and every person in the world gave up on us, God has already purchased us through the blood of Jesus Christ.  A true umbrella policy.

Yesterday my four-year-old came to me looking for the “big scissors.”  I didn’t want him to get hurt, so I refused, but he persisted until he wore me down.  After being reminded  never to run with scissors, he agreed and then promptly ran up the stairs, sharp scissors in hand.  In an instant I saw what we must all look like to God.  A bunch of children running with scissors and constantly putting ourselves at risk.

Thankfully, the same God who insured the uninsurable Job has got us all covered.

Hanging By a Thread

The Prodigal Son may be a story of forgiveness, but to some people it is also a story about a loose tooth.  Okay, only to me, but with good reason. 

Luke, my six-year-old, had his front tooth loose and hanging by a thread for months, with no end in sight.  Every day brought more certainty that this tooth was with us for the long haul.  Through graduations, weddings, and funerals, The Tooth would be there as an inextricable part of our family. I’ve seen bull dogs with less tenacity. 

Every time Luke smiled at me, I saw his future before me in a flash.  In every scene, he still sported a dangling, loose front tooth.  Every milestone picture captured it:  driver’s license, prom, even holding his first child.

Then there was my recurring nightmare of his wedding.  In front of friends and family, Luke stood at the altar, exceedingly handsome with his surfer-blond hair and strapping physique.  He turned to greet his lovely bride and smiled.  The crowd gasped in horror at the sight of his dangling, bloody tooth.  He lisped, “I, Luke Hanthon, take thee…”

I felt a terrible sense of guilt as a mother.  When Luke got his first tooth at one year,  my heart gushed over how adorable he looked. Now I just wanted to grab a pair of pliers and yank.

When a child has a loose tooth, the rest of the family hangs in the balance.  In the middle of all this dental madness, I happened to be reading the story of the Prodigal Son.  Of course, this name was just assigned to him over time; it wasn’t actually his nickname.  It’s not like his father referred to him this way in the Christmas newsletter.  This year our Prodigal Son decided that my hard-earned money really must grow on trees so why not waste it all and have nothing to show for it.  We’re so proud.

The Prodigal Son demanded all of his inheritance at once and then led a more scandalous lifestyle than a Hollywood bad boy.  Once he hit rock bottom, he had to take a job as a pig feeder.  The only thing worse than getting a job as the Director of Pig Slop is the poor guy who didn’t get the job.

One day when the pig slop started looking tasty, the son came to his senses.  Filled with guilt and remorse, he returned to his father.  By this point he must have been looking quite gaunt and scraggly, not to mention in desperate need of a shower.  On the journey home,  he probably imagined his neighbors and family lined along the village streets and taunting him.  Hey, Bones!  Here’s some slop–you want some fries with that? Hahahahaha! Oink, oink! 

The only thing that could save this wretched man was redemption by his father.  His father had every right to be angry and hold a grudge against his son.  Instead, being filled with compassion, he ran to his son and buried the sin with his love and forgiveness.  When the son’s life was hanging by a thread, the father was able to cut the cord that tied him to his pain. 

Sometimes we just need Daddy to save us.

We were eating lunch when I noticed Luke’s loose tooth was starting to bleed.  Against Luke’s wishes, it was time for Daddy to intervene.  Dave had no choice but to end everyone’s agony and cut the cord…er, thread, that held us all in bondage.  It was a bloody scene, but one that brought great deliverance for us all, especially our son.  He now had a huge gap in his mouth, but he smiled with relief from the pain.

It reminded me of all the times in my life when I’ve been hanging on to something painful, and all I needed was the loving touch of my Father to help me let go.  God is ready with his trusty pliers; all we need to do is let Him do His work.

The day after the impromptu tooth surgery, I heard Luke crying in his room. 

“What’s the matter?” I asked. 

Nothing could have prepared me for the squeaky answer from the other side of the door:

“My other front tooth is loose!”